Monday, December 3

From Ohio State to Illinois... Explanations and Analysis of the BCS Selections

There's no point in rehashing what I've stated numerous times - in my fairly meaningless opinion, Oklahoma is better than both LSU and Ohio State. OU has a better quarterback than either team, a better WR corps than Ohio State with comparable running games and defense, and a better defense than LSU with more consistent production from the WRs. However Ohio State finished with a better record and, in the final week, lots of teams on LSU's schedule moved up in the rankings while Oklahoma hurt themselves by beating Missouri twice and Texas choked a game against TAMU.

Ohio State has lost only once and to a good team. They were an obvious choice for the BCS.

Now let's look at the LSU Tigers' season:

LSU was red-hot in the month of September, winning their first three games by a combined 137-7 including a 48-7 victory over eventual BCS #3 Virginia Tech. The Tigers' first real test came in the form of Tim Tebow's Florida Gators, who took a 17-7 halftime lead in Tiger Stadium but were thwarted by LSU's perfect 5-5 4th down preformance in a comeback win, with LSU scoring all 14 4th quarter points. The following week, LSU suffered injuries to WR Early Doucet and lost one of their cornerbacks late in the game. There were some questionable calls that went in Kentucky's favor both leading to and in the overtime periods, and the Wildcats beat LSU in 3 overtimes. Next week against Auburn, LSU was again on the ropes trailing Auburn 17-7 at halftime. Auburn took a 24-23 lead late in the game, and with just seconds remaining Les Miles called a fade to the end zone rather than trying a 39 yard field goal. The gamble paid off once again. Not out of the woods yet, LSU travelled to Alabama to take on their former coach Nick Saban. Again the Tigers trailed at halftime and at the end of the third, and again they had a big 4th quarter to win 41-34 by scoring the final 14 points. After climbing back up to #1 with a 10-1 record, LSU's final regular season game was against Arkansas. Darren McFadden showed why he is a Heisman contender, rushing for 200 yards and 3 TDs and throwing for another. Despite a strong performance by Flynn and the offense, the game was lost on a two-point conversion! However the Tigers would get a chance to redeem themselves, taking on Tennessee in the SEC Championship. As LSU lost Matt Flynn to injury, the defense rose to the occasion to limit Tennessee's offense, forcing two interceptions from Erik Ainge including a game-winning defensive score! Hester had a big game and LSU outgained Tennessee 212-94 on the ground. Though the road was rough, it was full of quality teams and this was LSU's justification for playing in the title game.

Also let's face it - Oklahoma had karma left over from the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Perhaps LSU's selection over a probably better Oklahoma team is the SEC's payback for Oklahoma's selection over a probably better Auburn team in 2004. In any case, OU's karma is cleansed by being left out. Imagine the reaction if they had been selected and then lost to Ohio State, their third title game loss in the last five seasons! (OU vs OSU would in fact feature teams combining to go 0-3 by an average of 39-16 in three of the last four title games, and their matchup would guarantee that one of these teams has lost in four of the last five)

So, while LSU wasn't my choice, they were a reasonable selection and most importantly they bring a resume of quality wins to the BCS Championship game which was in grave danger of being absent had West Virginia not somehow choked against Pitt. In fact, if we view the contenders as belonging in two groups:

0-1 Loss Teams with 0-1 Quality Wins
* Hawaii
* Kansas
* Ohio State

2 Loss Teams with 3+ Quality Wins
* Oklahoma
* Virginia Tech

Then this title game manages to halfway appease each camp's view on which type of team is more impressive. In fact, it's pretty evident that Ohio State is the most deserving in that top group while in the second group LSU is at least more deserving that Virginia Tech (who they beat by 41), if not more deserving than Oklahoma as well.

Selection Grade: A-
There are teams who have done more than Ohio State and there are teams who don't have LSU's losses. That said, it was a bizarre season and there was no "right" choice for this game. If we think of it as another BCS bowl game rather than a conclusive #1 vs #2, it's a pretty awesome matchup.

Once Ohio State vs LSU was set, the other conference champions with tie-ins were placed:
* USC went to the Rose Bowl.
* Oklahoma went to the Fiesta Bowl.
* Virginia Tech went to the Orange Bowl.
* West Virginia automatically qualified for an unspecified BCS bowl by winning the Big East.
* Hawaii automatically qualified for an unspecified BCS bowl by winning the WAC and finishing in the top 12.

First the replacements for Ohio State and LSU are made.

Because Ohio State was the #1 team whose tie-in was with the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl selects the first at-large team. Anybody in the TOP 14 is available, meaning their choices were:
* Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii, Arizona State, Florida, Illinois, and Boston College
* There may be a rule that teams who played during the regular season cannot play against each other a second time in the bowls, unless for the BCS Championship. In any case, and ASU-USC rematch obviously would be a poor choice.
* Let's also give the Rose Bowl the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Sugar Bowl lobbied really hard to be allowed to take Georgia, and that the folks who run the Rose Bowl are generous people.

USC vs West Virginia would be an amazing game that many thought would be for the national championship. USC vs Missouri would bring in a Heisman contender QB and a team who was one game away from finishing #1. USC vs Hawaii would feature the nation's only unbeaten team and #1 scoring offense in a battle for Western supremacy.

Illinois has two losses to unranked teams - Iowa and Michigan. Iowa won't even be playing in a bowl, and Michigan lost to a I-AA school. They're the product of Todd Boeckman repeatedly sabotaging OSU's offense in one game, which pretty much defined an otherwise decent but not January Bowl-worthy season. This was, by far, the most perplexing BCS decision.

Selection Grade: F
Surely this was a practical joke of some kind?

Next, the Sugar Bowl selects a replacement for LSU. Anybody in the TOP 14 not yet chosen is available, meaning their choices were:
* Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii, Arizona State, Florida, and Boston College

The Sugar Bowl selected Georgia, an SEC team which is the bowl's traditional tie-in and the highest-ranked team still available.

Selection Grade: A+
The Sugar Bowl gets the hottest team in the nation and manages to keep their conference tradition.

Now the remaining at-large selections are made.

The Orange Bowl has first at-large pick. Anybody in the TOP 14 not yet chosen is available, except Florida since the SEC now has two BCS teams, meaning their choices were:
* Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii, Arizona State, and Boston College

West Virginia may have made the most sense given that they have something of a rivalry with Virginia Tech, they bring an explosive offense which will generate ratings, and despite their ranking they may be the best team remaining. I'm going to give the Orange Bowl a break here and *assume* that the Fiesta Bowl said "please don't make us have an all-Big 12 matchup" in which case the Orange Bowl was choosing between Missouri and Kansas.

Missouri beat Kansas. Missouri has Chase Daniel, who will probably get a Heisman invite. Missouri has Maclin, Rucker, Coffman, and Temple. Just Saturday, Missouri was playing for a spot in the BCS Championship game. Missouri was the highest-ranked team remaining.

The decision to take Kansas is baffling.

Grade: C-
The Orange Bowl gets a team who has faced just one ranked opponent all season and lost.

The Fiesta Bowl has the second at-large pick. As West Virginia and Hawaii both had automatic bids and there were only two total slots remaining, one of those teams had to be chosen.

West Virginia was a game away from playing for the BCS Championship, and might have won had Pat White not injured his thumb. (or had their kicker not missed PAT-length field goals) Whether WVU or Hawaii is actually the better team is overshadowed by the fact that WVU is a known commodity (won 2005 Sugar Bowl, faced much tougher schedule than Hawaii) so they are far less likely to flop. If Hawaii went up against Oklahoma, they could pull a Boise State or they could lose 56-3; it's impossible to say since their schedule is ranked #137 in Sagarin's - yeah, that low, really.

Grade: A
The Fiesta Bowl couldn't have hoped for a better team with the second-to-last pick.

The Sugar Bowl has the final at-large pick. Hawaii automatically qualified for the BCS and they were still not chosen. This pick was automatic.

No Grade Assigned.

The Matchups:

Rose Bowl
#7 USC vs #13 Illinois
After the 2003 season, the Rose Bowl gave USC a share of the national title. In 2004, the Rose Bowl was Vince Young's coming out party against Michigan, a performance which he surpassed to claim the 2005 title for Texas over USC. Last season, the Rose Bowl featured USC against a Michigan team who was 3 points away from playing in the title game. This is quite a falloff from such recent history.
Matchup Grade: D

Orange Bowl
#3 Virginia Tech vs #8 Kansas
Ignoring the fact that Missouri is a better team, the Fiesta didn't do that poorly with Kansas. The Jayhawks are a mostly untested team, but Va Tech's quarterback situation means this one probably won't get ugly. I'm interested to see how an offense that statistically ranks in the top 10, but may be completely the product of the teams they've faced, stacks up against a defense that has finished in the top 10 for several straight seasons. In the end, Va Tech is a team who was tightly in the title discussion and Kansas is a team who would have been if they weren't, well, Kansas.
Matchup Grade: B+

Fiesta Bowl
#4 Oklahoma vs #9 West Virginia
If Pat White's injury really did have such an impact on the WVU-Pitt game (I don't remember it and thought that he was pulled for ineffectiveness, and I think it's inexcusable to lose to Pitt either way...), then these are TWO teams who are a bad hit away from having one loss and playing in New Orleans on Jan 8. In any case, Oklahoma just might be the best team in the country and West Virginia almost surely has the fastest offense.
Matchup Grade: A+

Sugar Bowl
#5 Georgia vs #10 Hawaii
Hawaii has won all 12 games this season and Georgia has won their last six, making them the only teams in the BCS who didn't lose in November or December! Some might argue that this means they should be playing for the title, but in any case I'm excited to see the hottest two teams in the country face off. Georgia is a proven commodity having finished 10-2 in the SEC with wins over Florida and Tennessee. Will Hawaii be this year's Boise State/Utah, or will the midmajor finally be humbled by the big bad "power conference" team in a BCS bowl?It's also noteworthy that Hawaii is usually the beneficiary of playing bowl games in their home stadium. It's ironic that in their biggest bowl game ever, the other team will basically have home crowd advantage.
Matchup Grade: A-

BCS Championship Game
Hosted by the Sugar Bowl
#1 Ohio State vs #2 LSU
Ignoring all arguments about who "should" have been here, we've got two pretty good teams who are here. Ohio State played in the first BCS Sugar Bowl and beat Texas A&M 24-14. They won the national title in 2002 and played for the national title last season. LSU played in the Sugar Bowl last season and beat Notre Dame 41-14. They won a share of the national title in 2003 with a victory in the Sugar Bowl. But that's all in the past...
This season, Ohio State did play one of the weaker schedules, but lost just one time and picked up road wins over Washington, Purdue, Penn State, and Michigan. For whatever it's worth, the latter three teams were ranked at the time (or overrated, as it's sometimes called). Wisconsin, however, is currently ranked and that was another victory for the Buckeyes. In a season where countless upsets occurred, Ohio State managed to do what they were supposed to in 11 of their 12 games which is more than 116 other teams can say.
LSU has two blemishes on their record, but they faced the toughest schedule of any contender. They have victories over teams ranked #3, #12, #16, and #23 in the BCS standings. One of the two teams who beat them, Arkansas, is ranked in the top 25 of every voter poll, though the computers drop them down to #27 in the BCS. They won the toughest conference and they have the most impressive nonconference victory of any team in the country. Indeed that victory over the ACC Champion may have been what put them ahead of both VT and Oklahoma, whose nonconference victory over bowl-ineligible Miami is nowhere near as impressive.
This game will feature one of the nation's best offenses against what is statistically the nation's best defense. Their counterparts are underrated as LSU's defense has given up many overtime points where the opponent basically starts on the goalline, and OSU's offense has often been content to run out the clock in their comfortable victories. Each team has a fatal flaw - LSU's red zone defense and OSU's quarterback play. It's somewhat interesting that Ohio State has never beaten an SEC team in a bowl game and that Ohio State's 2002 BCS Championship victory came in overtime while both of LSU's losses this season came in overtime.
LSU will be playing in basically a home environment and Ohio State won't have played a game in 50 days. However, LSU will be without their defensive coordinator Pelini who was hired by Nebraska, and they are currently dealing with some key injuries.
Matchup Grade: A+ for general BCS Bowl, B for Championship Game

Karma Cleansing:

As I've noted before, the Big 12 has benefitted from the BCS formulas in the past to get invites to bowls over teams who the voters had ranked higher. Who was right - the voters or the computers - really isn't the point; that is what happened. This season:

* Oklahoma, arguably the best team in the nation when healthy, was passed over despite dealing two losses to the team who was ranked #1 in the final week.
* Missouri, despite being ranked #6 overall, was left out in favor of two at-large teams ranked below them - Kansas and Illinois both of whom they defeated!
* Kansas, despite being just one of two BCS conference teams with only one loss, was left out of the title game in favor of a team with a worse record. This is the first time that's ever happened to anyone but a midmajor.

If God actually cares about college football, He must really have it in for:

* Missouri.
The Tigers are most well-known for being the victim of Colorado's infamous "Fifth Down" in 1990.
This season, they beat Kansas and lose to Big 12 Champion Oklahoma twice... finishing 1st in the Big 12 North and 6th in the BCS Standings while Kansas finished 2nd in the Big 12 North and 8th in the BCS Standings. But because they were forced to play against OU (who's arguably the best team in the country) two times, they're not even in the BCS at all. I really cannot fathom why KU was chosen over Mizzou. Adding insult to injury, #13 Illinois who had a worse record than Missouri and lost to Missouri on a neutral field was the first at-large team chosen.

* Oregon.
The Ducks have twice been shafted by the BCS - in 2001, being one of three one-loss teams left out in favor of Nebraska, and in 2005, being left out entirely in favor of a lower-ranked Notre Dame team because of ND's special clauses in the BCS contracts.
This season, Oregon was #2 in the BCS with a blowout win at Michigan, a close loss to Cal, and coming straight off consecutive victories over USC and Arizona State. They lose Dennis Dixon and drop three straight games without him - plummeting out of the rankings entirely and landing a date in the Sun Bowl against South Florida.